~ Submitted by Angela Winter
A Vote Against a Paved Bikeway is Not a Vote against People with Disabilities. To say that voting to block the bikeway extension is a vote against people with disabilities is a very divisive and inaccurate statement about a large number of voters who turned up at Town Meeting to vote. In a time when many people are calling for ways to come back together as a community, this type of narrative does the exact opposite of that. It further divides the residents of this town by pointing fingers at a group of people who had different opinions on the bikeway project than the author of this recent Letter to the Editor. Until we can realize this town is made up of many people with diverse thoughts and opinions, and respect those thoughts and opinions, we will never be able to come together again. I’d like to ask the author of that article, as well as the members of the Select Board and other involved parties if they surveyed the many people in Bedford with disabilities about their thoughts not only on this project, but about ways to make the entire town of Bedford more accessible.
While filling my car up at the Gulf station on Great Road recently, I happened to see two older men, one in a motorized scooter, the other in a recumbent e-bike, riding westbound towards the center of town. They were riding on the road, and I can only assume that they were doing so because the sidewalks in that area were not accessible for them. Perhaps they needed to get to Stop and Shop, or CVS, or perhaps they were heading back to the VA. So, in this case, how would a paved bike path heading to Concord, in a section of town with little to no businesses, have benefited these men? This is not the first time that I have seen a person with disabilities riding along the Great Road in a wheelchair or scooter. The town needs to be looking to make ALL areas of town accessible. Why are we focused solely on this bikeway extension being the only available option for increased access in town? Am I saying that it wouldn’t have helped several people? No, not at all, but if we are truly concerned about making Bedford more accessible, we need to look at the bigger picture, and make the entire town more accessible.
It may have been overlooked that the bikeway extension would have included the reconstruction of Railroad Ave. This stretch of road is often flooded, crumbling and has no sidewalks. The rebuilding of this even without provisions for cyclists will cost the town approximately $2.5M. Note that this is a town road and would receive no funding from the state and would not qualify for CPA funds. Hence it would be a bonded expense. The $1.4M of CPA funds will be replaced with $2.5 of town funds. This doesn’t sound like a sound financial choice. Please remember this when in a future town meeting our taxes are raised to cover this expense.
I find it ironic that the author wants the town to survey people with disabilities to find out their needs, but she doesn’t seem to have spoken with a single disabled person — just watched a couple people “riding on the road” — before writing this letter to tell us what those same people do & don’t need or want.
Does the author know that the two older men she saw were *not* going to Concord? They were going westbound. Does she know they wouldn’t have been on the paved bike path if it existed? Does she even know if they have disabilities?
She doesn’t. She admits that, saying, “ I can only assume that they were doing so because…”
Maybe a better way to “come back together as a community” would be to speak with other people before speaking for them. Maybe if we made fewer assumptions about what other people want & why — esp before making public statements about these things — the town wouldn’t be as divided as it is today.
Finally, while I agree with the author that the town could do more to improve accessibility, at least there are options now for wheelchair-bound people, for instance, to get to the town’s business district. BLT and The Ride drive people door-to-door.
As Bedford resident Leah Devereaux (whose husband is in a wheelchair) wrote in her 3/26/22 Letter to the Editor: “It is nearly impossible to find a space that’s truly accessible in nature.” What those with accessibility challenges do *not* have now is an option to safely & easily enjoy our town’s natural beauty. Because of the No votes on the bike path, that will still be true for many, many years to come.
I Think You have missed the point entirely. No one’s main point about paving that bikeway for those with disabilities was about access to businesses or helping them get around town. It was about making a space accessible to those with disabilities that do not have many choices when it comes to enjoying nature. I agree the town also needs to make its thoroughfares more accessible as well but that does not change the fact that those with disabilities have very limited places where they can enjoy trails etc. How you and those who voted with you could listen to that young woman’s plea and still vote the way you did is a travesty.
I am not going to argue against improving access along The Great Road, it would indeed be wonderful if the sidewalks from Loomis to Stop & Shop were better. However, that wasn’t the question in front of the Town Meeting. The question was do we spend a small amount of money buy land everyone though the town already owned, and to unlock state and federal funds. Not just to improve the reformatory branch path, but also make Railroad Ave more accessible to non-automative users as well. Basically give the town an extra 1.7 of miles of mixed used, ADA compliant paths for free.
The truth is with the gentle grades, and wide rights of way, former railroad beds represent a unique opportunity to create accessible trails. The topography of The Great Roads, and crowded right of way make adding such paths along The Great Road a much heaver lift. We should’t have let the better be enemy of the good (and free).
Two things can be true at the same time. Indeed, more of Bedford should be made more accessible. But that doesn’t mean the accessibility on the bike path shouldn’t be extended. A vote against that is a vote against more accessibility, whether that was the intention or not.